India polarised over hanging of Mumbai bomber

2015-07-30 18:42
Social activists condemn the hanging of Yakub Memon. (AP)

Social activists condemn the hanging of Yakub Memon. (AP)

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New Delhi - The execution of Yakub Memon, convicted for his role in one of India's worst terrorist attacks in 1993, has sparked polarised reactions and revived the country's long standing debate on the death penalty.

A series of co-ordinated bomb explosions took place across India's financial hub Mumbai on March 12 1993, killing 257 people and injuring over 700.

Memon, a Mumbai-based accountant, was convicted of organising finance and logistics for the bombings. The charges against him included criminal conspiracy and assisting an act of terrorism.

He was one of the more than 100 convicted in the case by an anti-terrorism court, but the only one whose death penalty was upheld by India's Supreme Court.

The others included gangsters, customs officials, housewives, a top Bollywood film star and several members of Memon's family.

After more than 20 years in jail, Memon was hanged early on Thursday, barely an hour and half after his last petition to the Supreme Court was turned down at an unprecedented night-time hearing.

India is no stranger to death sentences, with 1 303 handed down between 2004 and 2013, according to the National Crime Record Bureau.

But very few are executed - only four since 1995, with three of those, including Memon, linked to terrorism cases.

"The convict got full run of India's justice system beginning from 1994 and in the end justice prevailed on both sides," Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said. "He was convicted for a heinous crime where over 200 people were killed."

Leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party stood behind the court's decision. "The Mumbai bombings were an elaborate operation planned and carried out by trained mercenaries who decided to kill the very same people with who they shared their lives since childhood," Sudhanshu Mittal, a party leader from Mumbai said.

"We have to respect the verdict of the court. Those questioning it are trying to undermine the process of law, it is mischievous and irrational," Mittal said.

Several eminent citizens, including eight retired judges and some lawmakers of opposition parties wrote to the president pleading to commute Memon's sentence to imprisonment for life.

Besides the ethical issue of capital punishment, they said Memon had been in jail for over 20 years, was suffering from a mental illness and that he had been singled out for capital punishment because he was the brother of a principal suspect who evaded police.

They also pointed to a letter published on Indian website, purportedly written by a former intelligence official saying Memon's co-operation with the investigators should be considered as mitigating circumstances while considering the death penalty.

Mittal points out that the letter does not say any deal was actually struck, and Memon did not mention one during his trial.

A thousand innocent families who lost loved ones in the Mumbai bombings could never be compensated fully for their loss, he said.

"They have waited 22 years for justice knowing clearly the key conspirators Dawood Ibrahim and Tiger Memon may never be caught. The victims will never get complete closure."

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticised the execution, saying there is no evidence that the death penalty deters terrorists, and saying it was time India abolished it.

Social media was abuzz with clashing comments on the deep division on Memon's case and the death penalty more widely.

"State-sponsored killing diminishes us all by reducing us to murderers too," Congress party lawmaker Shashi Tharoor tweeted.

"The fact that he [Memon] wasn't given the 'benefit of doubt' for helping investigation agencies is sad," said a tweet with the hashtag #yakubhanged.

"But what punishment do you give a man who helped murder hundreds of innocent people?" a subsequent post read.

Around 43% of a recent survey of students supported capital punishment to some degree, 44% opposed it while 13% were unsure.

"A majority of students reported being angry when a convicted murderer did not receive the death penalty, yet a majority also reported feeling sad when any person was executed," an abstract of the study said, reflecting the country's mixed reactions to Memon's hanging.

Read more on:    india  |  mumbai attacks

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